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Posts Tagged ‘margaret kennedy’

Serena Mackesy

Finds’ reissues of Lucy Carmichael and The Feast by Margaret Kennedy allow them to sit snugly alongside our existing editions of Kennedy’s The Midas Touch and The Fool of the Family. I am pleased to announce that her 1955 novel The Oracles will follow in Finds this August.
In preparing these publications I was delighted to discover that the novelist Serena Mackesy – author of Sunday Times bestseller The Temp (1999), Virtue (2000), Simply Heaven (2002) and Hold My Hand (2008) – is Kennedy’s maternal granddaughter. Serena has now very kindly written an appreciation of her grandmother’s work exclusively for Finds, which I’m delighted to reproduce below. I would also draw readers’ attentions to the serendipitous fact that a Kindle edition of Serena’s acclaimed Hold My Hand is newly available at Amazon, at a price that would tempt any sane person in search of guaranteed ‘goose bumps in the summer months’ (cf. Kirkus Review.)
But for the moment we proudly present ‘Mackesy On Kennedy’…:

An early bestseller can be both a blessing and curse on a writer’s career. Margaret Kennedy’s second novel, The Constant Nymph, became a phenomenon in the 1920s – a global bestseller which spawned stage plays starring the likes of Coward and Gielgud, as well as three big-business films – and, while this opened doors that might well have remained closed for years otherwise, she found herself under pressure, throughout her career, to repeat the formula.

Kennedy, however, was not a genre novelist by nature. Although The Fool of the Family is, indeed, a sequel to the Nymph, and also features moments of the same underplayed emotional devastation that made that novel such a success, it barely touches on the fortunes of the book’s central characters – the most important of whom, of course, died at its end. It follows, instead, the fortunes of the younger Sanger children, ill-equipped by their celebrated Bohemian upbringing for life in the ‘real’ world. Her portrait of the fear and drudgery of poverty is acute and moving – and was a great disappointment to the Bloomsbury group, who had adopted the Nymph as a working bible, rather missing the point of the satire within.

It was light-touch satire, and wry and incisive social observation, that formed the common threads that bind Kennedy’s novels together. And like many writers who make these techniques their stock-in-trade, she was a very serious individual. Nymph enthusiasts, buoyed up by fantasies of a gauze-clad free spirit romping on the seashore, were often surprised to find that the book had come from the typewriter of a bookish bluestocking. But this, of course, is the reason that her work was so strong, and so entertaining: she didn’t write memoir, but, rather, combined imagination, observation and a powerful flair for human psychology to create real, walking, talking individuals whose choices had profound, often disastrous, repercussions that often spread far beyond their social spheres.

She was a writer of wide human interests. As fascinated by the domestic as the powerful – mixing, herself, with the worlds of film (where she made much of her living, both as screenwriter and script doctor) and theatre and, via her law-lord husband, with those of government, academia and high society – she was the one standing in the corner taking notes, and identifying the pettiness, the assumptions and the irrationality that pervade most human decisions, from those of the billionaire to those of the overlooked housewife.

In The Midas Touch (the book she regarded as her best, and which was translated to film in the early Forties), a wealthy industrialist falls under the influence of a fraudulent psychic. The eponymous heroine of Lucy Carmichael has her beliefs about the world turned on her head as she recovers from a humiliating at-the-altar jilting. The Feast – my own favourite of her works – turns allegory into social comedy as a disparate group of holidaymakers while away their time in a Cornish hotel, unaware that several of them will meet a horrific death before the summer’s end. She remains a joy to read; fresh, clear, unexpected and, at the end, always profoundly moving.

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I hope to say a little more of some of these exceptional titles in due course; but let me first say quickly that as of now all are available to order in Finds:
FICTION
Scenes of Childhood by Sylvia Townsend Warner
The Power of the Dead and The Phoenix Generation by Henry Williamson
Lucy Carmichael and The Feast by Margaret Kennedy
Mockery Gap and Innocent Birds by T.F. Powys
NON-FICTION
The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire by Alan Palmer
Marshal Pétain by Richard Griffiths
We Come Unseen: The Untold Story of Britain’s Cold War Submariners by Jim Ring
The Memsahibs: The Women of Victorian India by Pat Barr
The Great Violinists and The Great Cellists by Margaret Campbell
The Art of Happiness by John Cowper Powys

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The young Elizabeth David, whose last work is reissued in Finds this month (see left)

Precisely what, you may ask, is Finds making available to readers this month? Answer, as ever: a grand assortment of outstanding fiction and non-fiction titles that deserve renewed attention, and these are they:
FICTION
Margaret Kennedy, The Midas Touch
Siegfried Lenz, The Heritage
T.F. Powys, God’s Eyes A-Twinkle
William Sansom, Bed of Roses
Sylvia Townsend Warner, Winter in the Air and Other Stories
Henry Williamson, Love and the Loveless
NON-FICTION
J.D. Bernal, Science in History vol.3: The Natural Sciences in Our Time
Elizabeth David, Harvest of the Cold Months: The Social History of Ice and Ices
F.W. Deakin, The Brutal Friendship: Mussolini, Hitler, and the Fall of Italian Fascism
Amos Elon, Jerusalem: City of Mirrors
John Grigg, Lloyd George: The People’s Champion, 1902-1911
Timothy Mowl, Stylistic Cold Wars: Betjeman Versus Pevsner
John Cowper Powys, In Defence of Sensuality
Notes and perspectives on a few of these will follow.

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